A family’s dream vacation becomes a nightmare when a disparate band of strangers invades their home and tells them that unless they pick one family member and murder them, the world will end.
It’s a crazy idea. Too bad Knock at the Cabin is a terrible movie.
The biggest problem with the movie is how writer/director M. Night Shyamalan (Old, The Sixth Sense) uses cardboard cutouts as the film’s doom and gloom soothsayers. Not actual pieces of cardboard, mind you, but actors so frozen in place by the underwritten script that they might as well be two-dimensional pieces of paper. It’s a fatal mistake that makes their dire prediction sound almost laughable.
And that’s a shame because the four actors playing the roles of the mysterious visitors, notably Dave Bautista (Glass Onion), try very hard to bring real meaning and menace to their words. Just as every hero needs an origin story to help audiences understand and appreciate their struggle to be good, every villain needs a similar story to explain why they are bad. In Knock at the Cabin, the four visitors aren’t necessarily evil, we are told, but just ‘normal’ people suffering from voices and visions telling them what to do to save the world. They try to prove their normality by showing their victims photographs of their lives before the voices call. It’s unconvincing, both to the family and to the audience. Instead of having Bautista, whose character Leonard says he was an elementary school teacher, show a photo of him posing with the school basketball team that he coached, how about giving the audience a scene of him coaching where he’s shown to be something other than the scary guy in the cabin. Or a scene where we watch him have the visions to show us how he reacted to them. That would make Leonard a hell of a lot more believable and scarier. Without that added dimension, Leonard and his pals stay flat.
Shyamalan tries to give the good guys a backstory, but it’s superficial at best. There are flashbacks to the parents – same-sex parents, the film keeps reminding us – meeting, falling in love, getting beaten up in a hate crime, adopting their daughter – that are all connected directly to preceding plot points and dialogue in an unimaginative way. They illustrate what’s already been said without adding anything new,
Bad as Knock at the Cabin gets, you can’t help but think something will happen to make the 100 minutes spent staring at the screen worthwhile. After all, this is a film by M. Night Shyamalan, the modern-day king of endings with a twist. And this film is so off the rails by the final scenes that you just know you’ll get whiplash from the big surprise.
But it never happens. Instead, Shyamalan has one of the parents give a jaw-dropping speech explaining in great detail exactly what the movie is about—or is supposed to be about. Or what Shyamalan wants you to believe it’s all about, But it sounds like a drunken first-year film student having verbal diarrhea trying to convince his classmates the movie is good.
If that is Shyamala’s twist, it’s a doozy.